by Whit Gibbons

July 30, 2006

No more meaningful environmental declaration can be made than that of the Wildlife Habitat Council (WHC): "The future of conservation lies not just in protecting public lands, but also in turning private lands into meaningful wildlife habitat by involving companies and people in the process." WHC appears to me to be one of the most well-meaning, and potentially effective, environmentalist groups operating today. The programs it espouses seem to me to be among the most supportive of local community environmental and conservation efforts.

The nonprofit WHC is much younger than many of the better known "environmental groups." WHC was established in 1988 as an innovative concept in which business would contribute to and benefit from conservation efforts. The ultimate vision of WHC and those involved in its programs is "to conserve and restore natural ecosystems for the benefit of humanity and the earth’s biological diversity." The corporations, conservation organizations, and dedicated individuals that comprise WHC have set as their goal the enhancement of existing wildlife habitat and the restoration of habitat that has been degraded or destroyed. Their ultimate objective is to benefit natural habitats and native wildlife. A primary means of achieving this goal is to encourage corporate landowners to manage unused lands in ways that are natural and ecologically sensitive to the land, water, and wildlife.

Savvy conservationists have known since the days of Aldo Leopold that protection and preservation of natural habitats and all wildlife can only be accomplished through cooperative effort. And cooperative effort requires public support. Environmental sensibility cannot be legislated, and it cannot be bought. It happens because people feel they are stakeholders and beneficiaries in the preservation and restoration process. WHC seems to understand that reality and to be taking the right approach to achieve it. Today, managed wildlife projects involving more than a thousand corporate facilities in 48 states, Puerto Rico, and 16 countries are assisted by WHC. More than 2 million acres are better off because of them.

WHC "Wildlife at Work" programs are developed by employee volunteers who create wildlife teams, which are further assisted by groups from the local community--garden clubs, civic organizations, scout troops, retirement villages, and schools. Government agencies are also encouraged to become partners in the effort. Established "Wildlife at Work" programs may become recognized as "certified corporate wildlife habitats through WHC’s Corporate Habitat Certification/International Accreditation Program." In an associated activity, a corporate site with an effective environmental education and outreach program can become certified through the "Corporate Lands for Learning" program.

Examples of ways in which WHC programs have used lands of corporate partners to facilitate native wildlife include restoring wetlands, developing wildflower meadows and pollinator gardens, and creating protective buffer zones along streams and rivers. Some of the efforts are structural enhancements, such as creating brush or rock piles for wildlife refuges and hibernacula; placing basking logs and floating islands in water; and setting out bee boxes, nest boxes, and raptor perches. Simply developing an environmentally positive attitude among managers and employees of a company is a highly constructive conservation step.

I agree with the stated benefits of a WHC program, which include improved employee morale, stronger community relations, increased public recognition, and better relations with federal and state regulatory agencies. And I applaud the obvious results of the program itself: enhanced wildlife habitat protection, restoration of biodiversity, and opportunities for environmental education.

Companies, private or public, that receive WHC awards because they have developed effective projects of on-the-ground habitat modifications and environmental education programs deserve public recognition and support. Check out the Web site and see which companies you think deserve some credit. Or if you work for or know of a company that might benefit from being involved in the Wildlife Habitat Council programs, visit the Web site to find out how that company can do its part for the community and the environment--and simultaneously benefit from its conservation efforts.

I know I am more interested in supporting the products and services of a company doing its part for environmental sensibility than one that clearly is not. I bet many other people feel the same way.

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